25 March: Lux, radio thumper

Barbara Stanwyck, a frequent Lux Radio Theater performer. (Photo: CBS.)

Barbara Stanwyck, a frequent Lux Radio Theater performer. (Photo: CBS.)

No radio show in 1939-40 dominates its night the way Lux Radio Theater does. By the time the CBS anthology dramatising film classics for radio finishes the season, its 23.7 Hooper rating will provide the show the largest margin between itself and the night’s second place finisher—in this season’s case, Lowell Thomas’s popular news/commentaries (NBC Blue; 14.5)—with 9.2 points separating the two shows.

This season, Lux has Monday night competition from other radio shows plucking its stars from the film world . . . and obliterates one and all of them, including Blondie (with Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake in their popular film roles) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce).

With three Blondie films based on the Chic Young comic strip already proven hits, bringing the show to radio should have seemed natural enough. Brought in to replace Eddie Cantor on CBS for the summer of 1939, Blondie backed into the fall schedule when R.J. Reynolds canned Cantor over political comments the cigarette maker considered a little too controversial—in a New York World’s Fair speech, Cantor had attacked Father Charles Couglin (seen as anti-Semitic in his popular broadcast sermons) and admitted Nazi admirer George Viereck, who contributed regularly to Coughlin’s Social Justice magazine, and the speech made headlines enough to make R.J. Reynolds nervous. Exit Cantor (who won’t return to radio until Jack Benny intercedes directly on his behalf a year later); enter the Bumsteads.

Blondie will finish 1939-40 with an 11.7 Hooper, good enough to make the season’s overall top fifty and finish sixth on Monday night. And, to begin a radio life of ten years criss-crossing the networks, while stars Singleton and Lake would make a concurrent 28 Blondie films for Columbia Pictures. Almost a decade after its radio life will end, Blondie will have a crack at television, with Pamela Britton succeeding Penny Singleton in the title role (Arthur Lake will remain as Dagwood), and with a single-season life.

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, who'd make four films together. (Unknown publicity photo.)

Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck, who’d make four films together. (Unknown publicity photo.)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation didn’t have to achieve a regular-season radio slot in quite the manner in which Blondie has backed in. Sherlock Holmes has been a radio fixture since 1930, when William Gillette began a succession of Holmeses until Basil Rathbone slips in off his success on screen as Doyle’s subtle-minded sleuth. Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (whose voices are almost too perfect for radio) will keep Holmes and Watson on the air through the fall of 1946 while making further Holmes films, until Rathbone steps aside in favour of Tom Conway.

Sherlock Holmes will have one thing in common with Blondie, however—in its best-loved radio offering, the Rathbone-Bruce era, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, too, will criss-cross networks for its entire run. But it won’t remain solely on Monday nights following 1939-40; sponsor Bromo Seltzer will move it to Sundays (1940-42), Fridays (1943), and back to Mondays (1943-46). The show will finish ninth and eighth on those two Sunday night seasons, out of Friday night’s top ten, and nowhere near the topten on its Monday night return until the final of its three Rathbone-Bruce seasons there.

Which may or may not necessarily prove that when it comes to presenting Hollywood nobody quite cleans up the way Lux does.

 

TUNE IN TONIGHT:

Lux Radio Theater: Remember the Night (CBS, 1940)

Apparently, the venerable anthology is developing further a habit of airing Christmas-themed shows a month of three after Christmas. Tonight, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurry have a crack at continuing that budding tradition.

They reprise their hit film roles as shoplifter Lee Leander (Stanwyck) and her prosecutor, John Sargent (MacMurray), who would rather postpone her trial than let it clash with Christmas, going far enough as to arrange her bail. But they fall in love, which could end up compromising the entire trial. Without compromising a cheerfully quirky story.

Also repeating their film roles: Elizabeth Patterson, Beulah Bondi, Sterling Holloway. Host/producer: Cecil B. De Mille. Announcer: Melville Ruick. Music: Louis Silvers. Adapted from the story and screenplay by Preston Sturges.

 

Further Channel Surfing . . .

Comedy

Lum & Abner: Losing Money on the Circus (CBS, 1935)—Chester Lauck, Norris Goff. Financing his circus by way of the Jot ‘Em Down Store teaches Lum a hard less when the circus loses five figures on its grand opening—and Abner may have miscounted some tickets.

Our Miss Brooks: Mr. Boynton’s Land Deal (CBS, 1951)—Eve Arden, Jeff Chandler, Richard Crenna, Jane Morgan, Gloria McMillan, Gale Gordon. It provokes cheerfully romantic confusion when Boynton invites Connie to partner with him and Walter gets the wrong message when calling a number they left behind.

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